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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 12, 2005

12 April 2005
Tatar Muslim Leaders Condole Over Pope's Death
The chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board, Gosman Iskhaqov, has expressed his condolences over the death of Pope John Paul II.

Tatarinform reported on 4 April that Iskhaqov emphasized the pope's tolerance in relations with Muslims. "The head of the Catholic Church aspired to a peace between believers of different faiths. He strongly sympathized with Islam and was the first among Roman [Catholic] popes who visited Muslim countries and held a dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. [He] publicly apologized for crusades conducted by the Catholics in the Middle Ages. He even observed the Muslim fast during one day of the holy month of Ramadan as a sign of solidarity," Ishaqov said.

The mufti, who spoke on 3 April, also said that the Catholic Church's return of the 'Our Lady of Kazan' icon to Russia was an example of the Pope's efforts to overcome controversies between Catholic and Orthodox churches.

In other reaction, the Council of Muftis of Russia, the Central Muslim Religious Board and the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus said on 4 April that they hope the next pontiff will continue the inter-faith tolerance initiatives of John Paul II.

Shaimiev Opposes Federal Law On Natural Resources
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev says Tatarstan will maintain its oil production at the level of 30 million tons a year. He made the statement in an interview with Interfax-Povolzhe on 4 April.

Shaimiev also spoke critically in the interview about the draft federal law on natural resources. He said the draft's proposal to pass powers regarding the use of natural resources to federal authorities could make local authorities less interested in developing oil production in their territories.

Shaimiev also said he opposes the abolishment of payments on reproduction of mineral-raw resources, introduction of non-differentiated tax on the use of natural resources, and high oil export customs. He said those measures would obstruct plans to reach production of 500-550 million tons of oil a year, as called for in Russia's power production strategy. He said the measures could even hinder maintaining the current level of extraction of 480 million tons a year.

Shaimiev charged that issues of natural resource management are now decided by government experts who do not have access to adequate information.

Shaimiev Praises Pontiff's Efforts To Return Holy Icon To Russia
In an interview with Interfax-Povolzhe on 4 April, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev called for remembering that it was Pope John Paul II who decided to return to Russia a sacred 18th-century copy of the Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon. Shaimiev said the pontiff, despite being extremely busy, found time to receive a delegation from Tatarstan to discuss preparations for the return of the icon to Russia.

During that meeting, the pope said he would like to return the Orthodox relic to Russian Christians while he was alive. Shaimiev added he does not doubt the pope's sincerity and denied media speculation that the pontiff was going to use the icon issue to settle controversies between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. "I am convinced that John Paul II had personal return with his own hand the relic to Russia without any conditions," Shaimiev said. The icon was handed over to Patriarch Aleksii II on 28 August 2004.

Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov expressed his regret on 5 April that John Paul II did not manage to visit Kazan, "the ancient city where [the] Our Lady of Kazan [icon] he honored so much appeared."

UN Deputy Secretary-General To Attend Kazan Jubilee Celebrations
Kazan Mayor Iskhaqov reached agreement on participation by UN-Habitat Executive Director and UN Undersecretary-General Anna Tibaijuka in celebrations devoted to Kazan's millennium on 22-25 June, reported on 5 April. Mayoral assistant on international relations Rasikh Segitov told the news agency that the agreement was reached during Iskhaqov's visit to Nairobi, where he took part in the meeting of the UN-Habitat's Managing Council. Iskhaqov, who is the vice president of the World Organization of United Cities and a member of the UN's Consultative Council on local self government, was a member of the Russian delegation at the meeting. Tibaijuka is scheduled to take part in a summit of local authorities, a general assembly of local authorities of Eurasia, a meeting of the council of the Organization of Cities of World Heritage, a meeting of the Council of Historical Cities, an opening ceremony of the Qol Sherif Mosque, and the Tatar national holiday Saban tuye. Bilateral agreements between UN-Habitat and the Commonwealth of Independent States are planned to be signed during the visit.

UNESCO Experts In Kazan To Develop Concept Of Outstanding Universal Value
Representatives of 37 countries gathered in Kazan for a four-day meeting of experts of the UNESCO Committee of World Heritage that opened on 6 April in Kazan, reported the same day. In a speech, committee President Temba Vakashe said it was not unusual for Kazan to have been chosen to hold such a large-scale international forum since a world heritage object, the Kazan Kremlin, is located in the Tatar capital. The celebration of Kazan's millennium, in August, is also on UNESCO's calendar of memorable dates.

In an appeal by Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev to the forum delivered by presidential adviser Rafael Khekimov, he expressed the hope that Tatarstan's Bolgar historical architectural complex and its Sviyazhsk historical architectural complex will also be included on the world heritage list. He also expressed hope that the Tatar national holiday Saban Tue will be included in the list of outstanding examples of spiritual heritage.

Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Yurii Fedotov took part in the meeting.

Court Gives Conditional Terms For Extremist Propaganda...
The Elmet city court has sentenced five local residents to conditional terms of imprisonment for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Islamic Party of Liberation) activities and for promoting its ideology, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 April. Young men were detained in November for distributing extremist literature in mosques and collecting donations for the development of Hizb ut-Tahrir. They were also accused of inflaming national, racial, and religious hatred. The court found the accused guilty of propagating principles of the extremist organization. Tahir Sairuzov and Airat Nurullin were sentenced to one year of conditional imprisonment each while Eldar Khemzin, Ildar Sheikhetdinov, and Eduard Nizamov were given two years of conditional imprisonment. Their lawyers told the daily that the verdicts will be appealed since they "were convicted of being Muslims."

...As Human Rights Leaders Warn About Muslims' Exodus
Memorial group member Vladimir Ponomarev told a press conference in Moscow on 4 April that former prisoners at the U.S.'s Guantanamo Bay military base have appealed to human rights activists to help them emigrate from Russia, where they claim it is impossible to live because of persecution against Muslims, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 6 April. Ponomarev said Tatarstan resident Airat Wakhitov, who served time at Guantanamo Bay, informed him on 4 April that two former Guantanamo prisoners have again been arrested by Tatarstan's police in the past week, one on allegations of using obscene language in a mosque and the other for collecting humanitarian aid for people who say they are being persecuted for having links to Hizb ut-Tahrir. Press conference participants reported numerous cases of illegal arrests of Muslims across Russia, some saying that law enforcement bodies consider any literature in Arab, even if it from the Koran, to be extremist. Human rights leaders said that in some cases there are no grounds for detaining Muslims and that police place explosives or narcotics on them and then arrest them. Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva warned that Russia is on the threshold of a mass exodus of Muslims.

Speaker Chairs Meeting Of Council Of Europe Committee
Tatar State Council Speaker Farid Mukhametshin chaired a meeting of the Committee on Culture and Education of the Chamber of Regions of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities on 7 April in Strasbourg, the Tatar State Council press service reported the same day. The agenda included discussion of policy issues and modes of cooperation regarding mass media. At the committee's plenary session on 8 April, issues on youth policy, cultural identity, intercultural and interfaith dialogue are scheduled to be discussed.

Civic Groups Claim Kazan's Historical Center Destroyed
A picket protest against damage to the historical center of Kazan was staged on 6 April by the Housing Owners' Society, the Society for Protection of Monuments, the Society for Russian Culture, and Tatarstan's Public Chamber in front of the building where a session of the UNESCO Committee of World Heritage was being held, "Vremya i dengi" reported on 7 April. Tatarstan's Public Chamber passed an appeal to experts of the UNESCO committee saying preparations for Kazan's millennium violate the principles of UNESCO and the Organization of World Heritage Cities. The petitioneers said the historical center of Kazan has been destroyed because new construction is being conducted chaotically and without public discussion of the city plan. They also said reconstruction of the Kazan Kremlin violates the city plan. Owners of apartments located in downtown Kazan said they are subject to administrative pressure by city authorities to move, puportedly as part of a program to eliminate ramshackle housing.

Kazan Mayor Confident Of Return Of Holy Icon
Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov told a briefing in Kazan on 7 April that he no longer doubts that the sacred copy of the Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon passed by Pope John Paul II to the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2004 will be returned to Kazan, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 8 April. Iskhaqov said Patriarch Aleksii II, who initially reacted "aggressively" to the idea of returning the icon to Kazan, has finally agreed that it should be kept in the place it was found and promised to return it. Iskhaqov said that the buildings at the Bogoroditskii Monastery where the icon was kept before the 1917 revolution and the Krestovozdvizhenskii Cathedral, which is also linked to the icon, are under reconstruction but will be finished by the holiday for the Kazan icon on 22 July. "We will definitely invite Aleksii II to that holiday," Iskhaqov said, adding that he "sincerely trusts" the promise made by the patriarch.

Think Tank Head Predicts Crisis In Russia In Four Years
Speaking before Kazan State University students, Institute for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies Director Emil Pain said a new empire with racist features is being formed in Russia, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 8 April. In his interview with an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent the same day, Pain said that if Russia continues in this direction it will face a crisis in four or five years. Pain said the problem comes not from the fact that numerous national republics and entities exist in Russia but from attempts to force them to live under Russia's pressure. He warned that countries governed by vertical power disintegrate as soon as the authority of central bodies weakens. Pain also said that corruption is growing and the standard of life is falling. He called an "Orange Revolution" unlikely in Russia but a red-brown revolt possible, since 17 million residents, according to polls, are ready to back the "Russia for Russians" slogan.

Government Promotes Tatar Holiday As UNESCO Heritage
Acting Deputy Prime Minister Zile Welieva met on 8 April with UNESCO officials to discuss the inclusion of the Tatar national holiday Saban Tue in the UNESCO world heritage list, Tatar-inform reported the same day. UNESCO representatives are on a visit to Kazan to take part in a session of the UNESCO Committee of World Heritage that opened on 6 April (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 7 April 2005). UNESCO General Conference President Michael Omolewa said following the meeting that Welieva attracted their attention to the Saban Tue holiday by saying "this is a burning issue for the republic government that takes it to heart." Omolewa said, "We realize that [Saban Tue] should be included in the list to preserve centuries-old cultural traditions. We are very much inspired with the intense activity of the republic's leadership aimed at the preservation of traditions and objects of heritage.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Joint Press Conference Reveals Cracks In Opposition Program...
The aim of Bashkortostan's opposition is the removal of President Murtaza Rakhimov and preserving the current status of the republic, Ramil Bignov, Airat Dilmokhemmetov, and Anatolii Dubovskii, representing respectively the ethnic Tatar, Bashkir, and Russian wings of the umbrella opposition group, told reporters on 5 April in Moscow, an RFE/RL Moscow correspondent reported the same day (see "RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 April 2005). In statements regarding their planned protest on 7 April, the opposition leaders reportedly expressed optimism regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin's reaction to their activities.

Speaking of possible candidates to replace Rakhimov, Bignov said that his organization would eagerly discuss candidates proposed by Putin. Meanwhile, Dilmokhemmetov expressed a different view, saying that his followers will disagree with any candidacies offered by Moscow. The three also expressed their readiness to oppose any attempts of sabotaging their activities by the Bashkir authorities.

...As Political Analyst Suggests Moscow Using Opposition To Tame Rakhimov
In an interview aired by Ekho Moskvy's "Kod dostupa" program on 4 April, political analyst Yuliya Latynina said that in her opinion, recent opposition activity in Bashkortostan "had nothing in common with democratic revolutions as in Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan." She claimed that the leaders of the Bashkir opposition enjoyed the support of members of President Putin's staff, "because it is a quite frequently used move of the Kremlin -- to use the help of the opposition to remind the president of this or that republic that he is behaving not so correctly or showing enough respect."

Latynina added that besides the political agenda, Moscow had material issues to be resolved with Bashkortostan. She noted that the Kremlin wanted to reclaim the stakes of Bashkir petrochemical industries that had been withdrawn to offshore zones before the 2003 Bashkir presidential elections.

Bashkir Opposition Demonstrates In Moscow
Some 200 activists belonging to the Tatar rights movement, the Bashkortostan People's Front, the Rus public and political movement, Russia's Communist Party, the Pensioners Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party from Bashkortostan picketed Lubyanka Square in central Moscow on 7 April, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported the same day. The picketers held placards urging the immediate dismissal of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov. They accused him of violating human rights, of obstructing free elections, and imposing private control over local petrochemical industries. After the picket, Bashkir opposition leaders reportedly handed a 107,000-signature petition to members of the Russian presidential staff.

According to an RFE/RL correspondent, the special Ufa-to Moscow flight that carried the opposition members to the capital was delayed five hours. The press service of Ufa airport said the delay was because "one of the passengers requested his flight be cancelled after the airliner had already moved to the runway."

Jewish Leader Criticizes Orange Protests In Ufa And Moscow...
Sholom Katz, chairman of Bashkortostan's Jewish cultural center, on 7 April faulted Bashkir presidential staff head Radii Khebirov for not adequately criticizing opposition protests in Ufa and Moscow, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported. Katz said that Khebirov "made only indirect statements regarding what is going on in Bashkorotstan" when the official spoke live on Bashkir state television the preceding day. The Jewish leader said that he expected the official "to be more direct and name distinct individuals who are craving for another redistribution of property" and whom he said were responsible for the upsurge of political protests against government.

In his TV interview, Khebirov said that some of the protesters in Ufa included workers of the Bashkir petrochemical industries and that they were obliged to demonstrate by their employers. Khebirov described the protest planned by the Bashkir opposition forces in central Moscow on 7 April as "baboon dances."

...As Other Pro-Government Ethnic Community Leaders Denounce Opposition's Efforts
Niyaz Mejitov, chairman of the pro-government Bashkortostan's Peoples' Assembly, told a press conference in Ufa on 7 April that the opposition protests in Ufa and Moscow represent "attempts to destabilize the political situation in Bashkortostan by a handful of people who are unhappy about the existing regime. They are being organized with little-known personalities who do not represent any ethnic group but defend the interests of some unnamed oligarchs," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported.

The chairman of Bashkortostan's ethnic Russian Assembly, Vladimir Samorodov, told the same press conference that more than 100 "specially trained provocateurs from St. Petersburg" joined the anti-government protest in front of the Ufa city administration and the republican government buildings on 26 March. He charged that some politicians are "trying to abuse the current situation with monetary reform for their own benefit." Samorodov also claimed that "several men on the street is not an opposition" movement.

Anti-Rakhimov Meeting Participants Sued
Bashkortostan's Prosecutor Aleksandr Konovalov told a press conference on 8 April that a criminal case has been filed against participants in the 26 March meeting in Ufa that called for the dismissal of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, Interfax-Povolzhe, RosBalt, and other news agencies reported the same day. The participants are charged with making public exhortations to extremist action. Konovalov said he filed the charges on 1 April after he watched videotapes of the March meeting provided by the Interior Ministry. Konovalov added that the Russian Federal Security Service's Bashkortostan's Board is investigating the case.

Prosecutor In Charge Of Yukos Case Appointed To Bashkortostan
Prosecutor Konovalov says the former investigator in the Prosecutor-General's Office in charge of serious crimes, Salawat Kerimov, has been appointed his deputy, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 9 April. Kerimov, who worked before 2000 in Bashkortostan, has investigated criminal cases against leading businessmen and oligarchs, including Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Platon Lebedev, Vladimir Gusinskii, and Boris Berezovskii during the past five years. "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 April cited an unidentified source in the Prosecutor-General's Office saying Konovalov will likely be moved to Moscow by the end of the year and Kerimov may be appointed to his position. Konovalov, who formerly was St. Petersburg's first deputy prosecutor, was appointed Bashkortostan's prosecutor on 24 February.

Ural Rakhimov's Supporters Resign From Parliament
Three Bashkir State Assembly deputies representing the republic's fuel-and-energy sector -- Reshit Mokhetdinov, Rinat Tukhteev, and Leonard Sadyiqov -- have given up their parliamentary seats, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 8 April. The three, all senior officials of Bashneft subdivisions, took part in the February plot in the Bashkir Parliament aiming for the dismissal of Speaker Konstantin Tolkachev and his replacement by Ural Rakhimov, the son of the republic's president. The Bashkir Central Election Commission has scheduled by-elections in their three electoral districts for 26 June.

"Kommersant-Volga-Urals" quoted Krasnokholmskneft Chief Engineer Sadyiqov as explaining his resignation by saying "it is impossible to be involved in politics and in administering the manufacturing sector at the same time." He also referred to the forthcoming reorganization of Bashneft, saying he will have no time to attend sessions of the legislature. The daily quoted an unidentified deputy saying he and several more parliamentarians representing the fuel-and-energy sector will also soon give up their terms in office. The source explained the moves as "unwillingness to further cause irritation of republic's authorities."

Bashneft Workers Protest
Roughly 10,000 workers of the Bashneft oil company met in Oktyabrskii, Tuimazy, and the village of Priyutovo on 9 April to demonstrate against the policies of Bashneft's leadership, against the company's reorganization, and against the mass lay-offs of company employees, RosBalt reported the same day. Under the reorganization plan, nine sections responsible for extraction of oil and gas are expected to be abolished and thousands of workers dismissed. The republic's oil-and-gas sector trade unions appealed on 4 April to the Arbitration Court to stop the reorganization of Bashneft. The court has halted the reorganization order and slated appeal hearings for May.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Chavashia's President Vows To Complete His Term
Chavashia President Nikolai Fedorov told reporters on 8 April that he will resign his post before his third term expires in December, Regnum reported the same day.

Date Chosen For Referendum On Recalling Samara Mayor
The Samara City Duma on 8 April chose 19 June as the date for a referendum on recalling Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 8 April, citing the Duma's press service. An initiative to recall Limanskii was registered on 24 February, and 56,800 signatures of support were handed to the Samara City Election Commission on 14 March. The signatures were passed on to the Duma on 24 March. Limanskii will be recalled if the number of people who support the referendum exceeds the number who voted for him in the last mayoral election.

Former Defendant In Tolyatti Murder Case Seeks Compensation
Tolyatti's Komsomolskii Raion Court on 4 April heard a case filed by Yevgenii Maininger against the Russian Finance Ministry and the Samara Oblast Prosecutor's Office, Regnum reported on 5 April. Maininger spent one year in pretrial detention after he was accused of killing "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie" Editor in Chief Aleksei Sidorov. Maininger was found innocent by a court in October (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 14 October 2003 and 19 October 2004). In January 2005, Maininger filed suit seeking 10 million rubles ($359,000) in compensation for moral damages and 360,000 rubles for financial damages. Maininger is also demanding that the that oblast prosecutor's office publish apologies to him in media outlets. At the hearing, a judge reduced the sum of possible compensation for moral damages to 300,000 rubles.

Saratov Oblast Governor Appoints New Federation Council Senator
Sergei Shuvalov, former chairman of the Saratov Oblast Duma, will represent Saratov Oblast's executive bodies on the Federation Council, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 6 April. A corresponding resolution was signed by new oblast Governor Pavel Ipatov. Shuvalov replaced Senator Ramazan Abdulatipov.

Former Saratov Governor's Wife Makes Wanted List
The wife of former Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Olga Sergeeva, has been included on the federal wanted list, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 11 April, citing the press service of the Volga Federal District branch of the Prosecutor-General's Office. Sergeeva has been accused of fraudulently obtaining two cottages worth 16 million rubles that belonged to the Saratov Oblast government. The criminal case against Sergeeva and the former business manager of the Sverdlovsk Oblast government, Stanislav Boiko, was filed on 6 July 2004 and the investigation was completed on 11 October. On 15 February, Sergeeva was charged with witness tampering.

According to the press service, investigators possess evidence that "illegal actions by Olga Sergeeva are administered by her husband Dmitrii Ayatskov, who tries by all means to prevent sending the case on embezzlement against his wife to a court, especially on the threshold of his appointment" as Russia's ambassador to Belarus.

Prosecutor Dismissed In Wake Of Conflict Between Priests, Interior Ministry Employees
Sverdlovsk Oblast Prosecutor Aleksandr Shaikov told a press conference on 8 April that the deputy prosecutor of Yekaterinburg's Chkalovskii Raion was dismissed for failing to investigate a 23 March conflict between Orthodox priests and Interior Ministry employees (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 29 March 2005), Interfax-Urals reported on 8 April. The raion prosecutor is currently on sick leave and the issue will be resolved at a later date, Shaikov said. On 23 March, raion Interior Department employees allegedly beat representatives of the Yekaterinburg Eparchy during a lecture devoted to totalitarian sect and detained three of them for several hours.

Synagogue Opens In Yekaterinburg
A new synagogue was opened in Yekaterinburg on 7 April, Regnum reported. The Jewish community had been leasing premises for religious services. The new synagogue includes a chapel with a capacity of 300 people, a computer hall, and a kosher restaurant. The chairman of the Congress of Russia's Jewish Religious Organizations, Rabbi Zinovii Kogan, said Yekaterinburg had been one of the last large cities in Russia without a synagogue.

Udmurtia's Parliament To Hear Referendum On Abolishing Presidential Post
Udmurtia's Central Election Commission has decided to request that the republic State Council consider holding a referendum on annulling the post of republican president, Interfax-Povolzhe and Regnum reported on 8 April, citing the commission. The CEC earlier passed a decision on a motion to maintain direct elections for the republican presidency.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova